It’s been a few days since the moon and stars were visible during my morning walk, but they were today, at least for a while, although clouds streaming up from the south slowly obscured the overhead moon. To the northeast, the sky showed streaks of blue and gold, but otherwise, was the color of a bruise.
More rain is coming — in fact, it’s dripping off the eaves right now — and that’s good news for anybody who is growing stuff — except, of course, flower-laden pakalolo. But that is not a plant found among the kalo, kale and lemon grass in my backyard garden.
I’m working on an article about agriculture, and it’s got me thinking about the likelihood of Hawaii being able to feed itself.
We know it’s possible, because it’s been done before, both by the kanaka maoli and following Western contact, when agriculture, not tourism, dominated the economy. Hawaii definitely has the physical components — fertile land, water and sunshine — to produce large quantities of food year-round.
And even though I hear that people don’t want to work the land anymore, I don’t buy it. I think there’s tremendous interest among folks of all ages, including the youth. But why get all excited about it when tenant farming is rapidly becoming the only real option?
As land prices continue to escalate, and the big private landowners raise rents and shorten lease terms, it becomes unattractive to invest tremendous sweat equity into a farming venture that could suddenly end in a couple of years when your lease is terminated. And that’s if you manage to get a lease in the first place.
With food security finally becoming a topic of discussion under the Hawaii 2050 sustainability plan, the state needs to be taking giant steps forward to open up more public lands for long-term farming ventures, including ag parks that offer housing.
It’s also time to crack down hard on the shibai “ag subdivisions” that are turning thousands of acres of good farmland across the state into rolling lawns around a manor house owned frequently by someone who lives somewhere else.
A case in point is the recently approved 2,000-acre Kealanani “ag subdivision,” which lies between Anahola and Kealia, across the highway from oceanfront Kealia Kai, another high-end “ag subdivision” that apparently isn’t selling well.
The developers got it through the county planning commission and state Land Use Commission by claiming it would be a true agricultural subdivision, with covenants requiring the owners to actually grow something, or lease it out to others if they didn’t want to dirty their hands themselves.
But with the CPR lots priced at $500,000 to $2.5 million, it didn’t seem too likely, at least to me, that many bonafide farmers, or even aspiring ones, would be making it through escrow.
With approvals secured, the developers are now making clear their true intentions — scoring big bucks — by running advertisements for Kealanani in that favored publication of farmers, the Wall Street Journal.
Just how much profit is possible speculating in Kauai ag land? Well, about this time last year, Kauai Realtor Paul Kyno, who partnered with San Francisco developer Peter Lynch to make their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow dreams come true, told me that total project costs at Kealanani were estimated at about $120 million — with sales projected at $200 million.
“The bottom line is, people will be farming,” Kyno told me, and the rules governing the subdivision “will be very strict,” with the homeowners association empowered to levy fines against people who don’t comply.
It sounds good, and I want to believe, but somehow, I don’t think farming is the true bottom line at Kealanani, or the many “ag subdivisions” just like it across the state.